Part photograph, part collage and part digital painting, Anaïs Boileau’s images are fascinating, to say the least. Hers is a portfolio quite unlike any other we’ve seen before, adeptly jumping between fine art and photography, yet somehow maintaining a consistent visual language and register throughout. “I like to create pictures that are visually strong, colourful and graphic,” she tells It’s Nice That. “I could say that my signature is the way I use light. Most of the time, I photograph in the sunlight, I like to have strong shadows and pastel colours.” Putting a name to her unique practice, Anaïs describes her work as “pictorial photography”.
Born in Nîmes and now based in the south of France, Anaïs initially pursued a photojournalistic career, but when she attended ECAL discovered she craved something “more artistic and creative”. After graduating with a degree in photography from the Swiss art school, she obtained a master’s in the subject from Central Saint Martins in 2017. In the ensuing years, Anaïs has exhibited around the world, maintaining a personal practice as well as working on commissioned projects.
The spark of an idea for a piece often comes when Anaïs is a spectator, she explains, and she builds resulting projects that toe the line between documentary and fiction. “I also like to create from pictures I’ve taken a long time ago,” she says. “I reopen folders and try to create associations or combinations within a new body of work, and by association, create a narrative story – a thread that guides us through shapes and colours.” This method often leads to collage-like works, particularly evident in Anaïs’ series La Grande Motte.
This body of work is concerned with “architecture and different forms of spaces that break the classical architectural pattern”. The idea, Anaïs elaborates, is that buildings can lead to reverie to the point of utopia. “I started with the architectural example of La Grande Motte,” she explains. “This seaside town facing the Mediterranean was built by Jean Balladur in 1969 to allow the French middle class to go on holiday in an exotic and atypical place. The architecture of the town is organic, almost decorative and figurative.” Having taken photographs on-site which served as the basis for the collages, Anaïs then created “a visual atlas of archival images from various sources, which I felt would have been my sources of inspiration if I had been the city’s architect.” The images in the series, therefore, hone in on structure, colour and act as almost fiction architectural research.
GalleryAnaïs Boileau: Grande Motte (Copyright © Anaïs Boileau, 2020)
A series made more recently expresses a very different facet of Anaïs’ practice. Titled Au bois du Bac, it was shot during lockdown when Anaïs found herself living with her parents. “For this project, I used the environment around me as a working space, a field of experimentation and an open-air studio,” she says. “By composing with what I could find on the spot, I wanted to render a poetry of the everyday as luminous.” The series features her family members, as well as still lifes of their home and surrounding area, with a particular focus on “shadows and the composition of graphic forms”. The idea, she continues, was to highlight a moment of calm and gentle contemplation.
Reading between the lines of these two projects we can understand why Anaïs refers to her work as pictorial photography. While there is always an initial reading of one of her images – I am looking at some towels on a washing line, for example – upon closer inspection, there is much more going on. Her photographs are full of unexpected contexts and multifaceted meanings and are as complex in their visual style as they are in their concepts. It‘s this that makes Anaïs’ work so fascinating, as what you think you are looking at is never merely some towels on a washing line.
Anaïs’ current venture sees her exploring Mediterranean cultures and the south as a basis of constant inspiration in her work. The series, which is ongoing, is full of colour and mimics the white rocks of the area, the great Mediterranean sea, and the reflection of the sky – sometimes blue and sometimes red. “I would like to be inspired by the diversity of cultures that the southern climate allows to develop, and to highlight the riches that define the Mediterranean basin and the customs and cultures that link people to their land,” she explains. “The utopia of a seaside, of a horizon. The slowness and temporality of the south. Who are the people who inhabit this land, which is bordered by water and surrounded by the sea?” With Anaïs having just moved into a new studio with “a lot of space and direct access to a garden”, we’re excited to see how this new avenue of exploration pans out.
Anaïs Boileau: Grande Motte (Copyright © Anaïs Boileau, 2020)
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.